Microsoft's Craig Mundie is building on his legacy of advocating terrible "security" policy. This time, he has picked up the Internet Driving License bug.
Microsoft executive Craig Mundie has a solid track record for supporting heavily restrictive technologies and technology policies. He has been a vociferous advocate of both the Trusted Computing initiative and DRM, both of which present serious privacy and security issues for individual computer users.
With that track record in mind, it should be no surprise that Mr. Mundie has taken on the mantle of champion of yet another ill-conceived "security" measure that, if implemented worldwide, would have disturbing consequences for individual security and privacy. At the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, he called for requirements for individuals to acquire licenses before they can access the Internet. While this sounds like a good idea in theory — if we could ensure everybody who uses the Internet was competent to do so, we really would have a safer Internet — it is not quite so palatable in practice.
As any (real) engineer can tell you, theory and practice are the same in theory, but they are quite different things in practice. When was the last time you saw a licensing system that actually guaranteed competence or, for that matter, at least guaranteed that competent people would not be excluded in favor of the incompetent at least some of the time?
As someone who has been licensed and certified in a number of different areas (including Microsoft certifications, physical security and deadly force management licensing, heavy equipment operation, and even hazardous materials transportation, among others), your humble author can tell you with a fair bit of confidence that it does not take much to corrupt a licensing system to the point that it no longer guarantees anything in particular, other than that a lot of money will be spent, and the more money one has to spend the more likely one is to get licensed.
The problems with Mundie's suggestions do not stop with licensing itself, however. He also suggested that the United Nations should be granted the power to "organize the systematic quarantine of computers without their owner’s permission."
Of course, there appears to be little danger of Craig Mundie's fever dreams becoming a reality. Any effective licensing policy for ensuring that only competent people get to use the Internet would probably effectively bar 80% or more of current users (your humble author's guesstimate is something more like 98%), and that certainly will not fly. Even ignoring the tremendous outcry of dissent from the populace at large, ISPs will not stand for having the majority of their customers taken away from them.
The alternative (and more likely) licensing scheme would be one that is wholly ineffective, and more prone to ensuring that only people who like the "right" brands and have memorized the "right" corporate-mandated policies will have access to the Internet, aside from those who gain illicit access. It seems unlikely that this sort of mandatory licensing scheme could come to pass as well, though it is at least a vague possibility if the whole world goes nuts next week.
It also seems unlikely that the UN would be granted the power to arbitrarily cut off Internet access for individuals, if only because many of the most powerful nations simply are not strongly inclined to let the UN cut into their economic sovereignty so egregiously. We should keep our fingers crossed, though, just to be sure.
Let's keep our ears to the ground, listening for the sound of approaching legislation, just in case some technophobes in government might otherwise manage to slip one by us. When dealing with the technologically incompetent in government trying to manage the lives of technical experts in the general populace, there is always the danger that incompetence might win the day.
Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.